• Students get a lesson about work
    By
     | May 26,2005
     

    MONTPELIER – As central Vermont teenagers wrap up final exams next month, many of them will also be applying for summer jobs: to save for college, buy clothes, or as one Montpelier High School teacher explained, pay off their cell phone bills.

    Many of them know the hip places to work – downtown restaurants and summer camps, as student Abra Metz-Dworkin explained – but many of them don't know that they share with adults the right not to be discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

    A panel of employment experts met with about 50 students Wednesday in the Montpelier High School library for a Youth@Work event to help increase awareness about workplace rights. The joint effort among the Vermont attorney general's office, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and local business groups is being held nationally to help teens learn about harassment in the workplace and what they can do to prevent and address it.

    Commissioner Leslie E. Silverman, Spencer H. Lewis from the commission's New York office and Rosa Lili Palacios from the Boston-area office told the roomful of students that they have a right not to be discriminated against, especially when it comes to sexual harassment. Teens are often subject to sexual harassment, they said.

    "One experience we hope you never have is the experience of discrimination," Silverman said. "If you do, we're here today to explain our agency, the EEOC, as well as the Vermont Attorney General's office. We want you to know how to recognize what discrimination is and we want you know to where you can turn if you need help."

    The campaign to educate teen workers is prompted by an increase in discrimination complaints in recent years, according to Silverman, who attended the University of Vermont and previously worked for Sen. James Jeffords. The attorney general's office is simultaneously working on a similar campaign to increase awareness about youth working rights. Student Metz-Dworkin, who is doing a community-based learning project with the attorney general's office, was part of the panel Wednesday.

    Silverman said Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chairwoman Cari Dominguez wants to help prevent discrimination in the first place, adding to the push for more education on the issue.

    Teenagers must typically work jobs in the fast food and restaurant industry, where turnover is high, training is minimal and the bosses themselves are often teenagers and may not know the laws against discrimination.

    "The rules in the classroom and the hallways are not the same as in the work place," Silverman said.

    "All unfair treatment is not illegal. If your manager yells at you but he yells at everyone else, he's just a jerk, he's not discriminating against you," Silverman said.

    But employers cannot fire someone or refuse to hire someone because of a disability or because that person must wear a certain article of clothing for religious reasons. Businesses can't pay two people who do the exact same job different wages based on gender, Silverman explained. Employers and coworkers are not allowed to touch workers inappropriately, either. If they do, employees are advised to tell the perpetrator to stop, and if that doesn't work, to go to a boss or call either the attorney general's office or the federal equal employment office, the experts said.

    Every employer in Vermont is required to have a sexual harassment policy, said Sandi Everitt of the Vermont attorney general's office.

    Age discrimination laws do not apply to teenagers. Federal law only protects those 40 and over, while Vermont protects those 18 and over.

    Heather Shouldice of the Montpelier Downtown Community Association, which represents some Montpelier businesses, said employees should make sure they fully understand work expectations, including the dress code and the sexual harassment policy.

    Contact Sky Barsch at sky.barsch@timesargus.com or 223-3335.



    For more information

    Visit the Youth@Work Web site: http://youth.eeoc.gov

    Vermont Office of the Attorney General: 828-3171; Web site about equal employment: http://www.atg. state.vt.us/display.php?smod=4

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